Tuesday, July 24, 2007

First Past the Post

This has been weighing on my mind.

I've posted in the past about our two party system; twice, as a matter of fact.

Is this just me, or does anyone else run the scenarios in their head and want to punch somebody in the face? As I see it, we're likely to end up with someone like Rudy getting the GOP nomination given the numerous "more conservative" candidates on the ticket.

Excepting for our purposes a discussion on the relative conservatism of each candidate, one can safely say that of the possible candidates, the ordering from liberal to conservative goes a little something like this: Guiliani, McCain, Romney, Thompson, Brownback/Huckabee, Hunter/Tancredo. I can't figure out if Paul falls between Thompson and Brownback or Huckabee and Hunter. So of the big name, big money candidates, I'd say I'd prefer Romney to McCain and Rudy any day. But enough people will vote their conscience (and mine is Hunter) and we end up with a liberal in elephant's clothing.

I know I've mentioned before the last primary for Illinois Governor... Judy Topinka won with a plurality, given a genuine split between "traditional" republicans on Oberweis and Brady. And we all know how Judy fared against Rod.

I'm wrestling with how to avoid the consequences inherent in our system, and have only one workable idea. "Workable" being a subject of much debate. I think the conservatives in the race should get together and decide who is going to be the candidate; I think that person should promise and deliver positions of influence for the guys who take the proverbial bullet and support the consensus candidate (Ambassador to the Cayman Islands, anyone?).

I'd be interested if anyone has any dissonance on the subject like I have, and if there's any possible solutions to help avoid a worst-case scenario. I shudder to think of a President Rudy - and he'd be hard, hard pressed to beat a Demo in the first place. There's practically no difference between him and a Democrat.


Call Me Mom said...

I have one vote and a responsibility to vote for the candidate that I feel will do the best job.

Not the one who has the best chance, according to the media, the one I feel, through my own research will do the best job.
I am not playing the two party game.

I will vote as my conscience leads me.

Michael Tams said...


Being pragmatic doesn't come into it at all? Let's say the primary shakes out like this... Fred and Rudy are neck-and-neck, and let's say that Hunter and Tancredo are still in the mix. I vote on principle for Hunter. Others vote likewise for Tancredo. Between Thompson, Hunter and Tancredo, the majority of the conservative faction of the GOP splits the vote three ways and Rudy - abortion rights Rudy, liberal judges Rudy - walks away with the nomination.

We don't bear some responsibility for that? To your way of thinking, there's no such thing as a "wasted" vote?

I think our responsibility might extend beyond just casting our vote for the best candidate, or the person we feel best about. I think there is some responsibility to think about the outcome of our decision, and what larger implications are from a strategic standpoint.

Now, I'll admit that I don't have a strong basis in reason for why I think this, except for maybe being burned by the process recently when the good citizens of Illinois chose a governor (you think my massive dislike of Blagojevich might be causing me some indigestion?). I think - but can't know for sure - that the outcome of the election might have been different if Blago had to run against a conservative Republican like Brady or Oberweis, instead of a weak copy of himself in Judy Topinka.

I would guess Rudy wouldn't fare well against Hillary or Obama; he fails to excite conservatives, except to animate them in their dislike of him. Not a good way to carry an election, to disaffect your base.


John Savage said...

Here’s the interesting question for me: Duverger’s law, which you cited in your earlier post, seems to suggest that parties will always move to the center. So let’s say we have a spectrum where 0 is absolutely liberal and 100 is absolutely conservative. If the Democratic candidate is at, say, 10 on the scale, then the Republican candidate can be at 11, and theoretically everyone from 11 to 100 will prefer the Republican candidate. So there’s an incentive for each party to nominate a candidate just to the left or right of the opposing candidate.

However, this assumes that voters close to 100 will not desert the candidate at 11, and will not choose to run another candidate. In reality we know that voters like us might stay home or vote third party if that happened. As you say, though, such a third party candidate does not have an incentive to run because of the “spoiler effect”. But you do seem to believe that Giuliani, for example, by being farther to the left than the other candidates, will not pick up enough votes from the Left or Center to compensate for people like us, who would be willing to see Giuliani defeated to avoid moving the GOP to the left. The theory doesn’t seem to take this effect into account – that sometimes, conservatives may be willing to punish the Republicans for failing to nominate a sufficiently conservative candidate by staying home or voting third party. The theory assumes this strategy is illogical or doesn’t work. According to the usual theory, then, nominating Giuliani is totally logical, while nominating a more conservative candidate reduces the GOP’s chances of winning.

In general, I would say that RINOs have a great deal of sway over the party because social conservatives do not have an absolute majority of the vote. Social conservatives thus need to appease the RINOs or else seek a different coalition partner to form a majority. RINOs can disappoint social conservatives without consequence as long as they know that social conservatives cannot find another partner they’re willing to work with to form a majority. If you want for us to have more influence, you’d have to draw up a system in which we’re the swing vote. That would require redefining the whole spectrum. Your other option would be to convince enough people to change their beliefs, so that social conservatives become an absolute majority. Since we’re already losing the culture war more and more every time, that would be a tall order.

For example, let’s say that the numbers were 45% conservatives, 35% ordinary liberals, and 20% neoliberals, and assume for the sake of argument that everyone votes and no one goes third party. As long as the first two groups insist on being on opposite sides, the last group can dictate the policies that either of the others must use to win. It can offer the Democrats victory if they will turn a blind eye to policies that increase inequality, and it can offer the Republicans victory if they will turn a blind eye to most of the actions that the neoliberals take to undermine traditional morality. A neoliberal Republican candidate can thus pose as the most “electable” candidate. If conservatives reject the offer and see the 20% all go over to the Democrats (as they did with Clinton), they must pull some voters from the liberal 35%, or else lose. The point is that this 20% essentially has all the power, unless the other 80% are willing to realign themselves in some way. More here.

One last suggestion: A big problem that we have is that large social conservative organizations have believed that they could gain influence by using their weight to help a candidate win the nomination. They’ve often decided that it’s better for them to be sure they endorse the winner, whom they might be able to influence, rather than endorse the candidate they like best. Most of the evangelical organizations, for example, endorsed Bush over more conservative candidates in 2000, and some have already leaned toward McCain or Giuliani this year. To me, this strategy has not worked at all. If you could talk the leading lights of the Christian Right into following a different strategy, maybe we’d be better off.

John Savage said...

I get the impression you're not in the habit of reading View from the Right, so let me also recommend this discussion.

John Savage said...

One more thing: I think it's appropriate to view Ron Paul as more conservative than Brownback or Huckabee, who have both tried to put a Christian spin on the open borders position. They want to tell us about what wonderful family values Hispanics have. Conservative Christians they are not.

Call Me Mom said...

Mr. Tams
There is a larger issue at stake here. That issue would be the duty of the American voter. It is my duty as an American to do the research and find the best candidate and vote for whomever that may turn out to be. It is not my duty sit back and allow the media to do my thinking for me.

To say that it is easier to have the media present me with the two most likely to win candidates and that it is not worth my time to vote for anyone else is simply disingenuous. I've said it before and I'll say it again, convenience is nothing but a pathway to destruction. It is efficient to have internet sites list all the candidates and their basic positions. I have no problem with that sort of thing. I have a huge problem with the idea that Americans need only sit back and wait for the media to tell them for whom they should vote by narrowing down the candidates in the two-party-any-other-vote-is-wasted system that is currently the norm. It needs to be changed, and the voters are the only ones who can effect that change by taking the elections back into their own hands and out of the media's.

Edmund Schrag said...

I don't think settling has ever been an American thing to do (just ask our brave grandfathers who sat helplessly on the west bank of the Elbe). However, I don't see it as a mechanism of the media that "everyone" has virtually sworn allegiance to Duverger's Law. It strikes me as something more like a logical explanation for the tendencies of representative republics to behave politically the way that they do.

I get the sense that here is where we might make an impact. Could the 1,000 steps forward/998 steps back progress of liberty's history be given a bit of a nudge--forward, of course--by educating the American citizenry about the finer points of political science in a way that might cause Duverger's Law to be a thing of the past? Or is the law too strong?

Michael Tams said...


I'm going to read all of your comments tonight and give a thoughtful reply... as soon as I see links, I know I need to give it more than the time I have tonight.


Edmund's point is a good one. The media has nothing to do with it, this is game theory. People will act a certain, predicatable way, and we can divine outcomes based upon this. The whole study of game theory is based on certain aspects of human nature and decision making. Primaries are excellent exampes of how this works. If there are three candidates (and let's use three for simplicity's sake), the results are fairly predictable.

Clinton, Bush and Perot in 1992 are a good study. In Maine, Clinton had 38.77%, Bush had 30.39% and Perot had 30.44% (yes, more than Bush). Would Bush have taken Maine if not for Perot? Impossible to say for sure, but I'd guess yes if I had to. Those folks in Maine who had heard enough from Bush and went with Perot actually contributed to the Presidency of their very last choice, Clinton.

I don't know that this can be avoiding unless you change the system to something that's not "winner takes all" in nature.

And heaven's sake, you know I'd never suggest letting anyone tell us who to vote for, but rather I'm suggesting thinking about how our voting decisions have consequences, and that well-reasoned compromise might be better than an unintended result.


Call Me Mom said...

If it's game theory we're talking about, then don't we have to recognize that in any game there are rules and strategies? It would be naive to disregard the role of the media in presidential elections up to this point. They have the choice of how, when and if they present the candidates to the people. They choose the language that is used to describe the candidate's positions and they choose whether or not to cover the candidate's activities as newsworthy. In my opinion, the MSM has taken a position on most of the candidates over the last several years and has actively promoted certain candidates over others. That makes the media part of the game board, if you will, and an important part of any strategy.

Here's the interesting part of this discussion. Today, the American voter is no longer restricted to hearing about the presidential candidates solely from the perspective of the MSM. (Yes, I know they never were, but it took a lot more work to get real information before the advent of the internet and how many were willing to do that when they had their trusted television anchors to tell them all they needed to know?) Now, we are just a few mouse clicks away from all the information we could want on each candidate, no matter how much or how little coverage they receive from the MSM.
This could be the change to the system that brings the individual voter back into play. That's what I'm intrigued by.
And no, pragmatism doesn't figure into it at all, I am answerable for my actions whether they were pragmatic or not. Character means you do the right thing even when no one's looking, even when it seems counterproductive. I may not know what the right thing to do is all the time, but may God help me if I mess up on the easy ones.
I do know that you would never knowingly suggest that we let anyone tell us who to vote for, but I think that is what you are doing when you suggest that a compromise to accommodate the two party system is better than each American taking personal responsibility for their vote. If that means we end up with (God forbid) Ms. Clinton as president, then it is up to the people who didn't vote for her to watch her like a hawk and prevent her from doing the damage that I believe would result from her presidency. That's the game as I see it.
What's your view?

Michael Tams said...


Here's what I think is likely: people would be more likely to stay home if there's a drizzle on election night if it was Rudy vs. Hillary. If in the back of your mind you don't think there's a heck of a lot of difference between the two of them, then why vote? So goes that line of thinking.

Me, I'd probably still vote for the philanderer, I just think it's suicide to put a Democrat in the White House.

Here's the dilemma as I see it. The right thing is for us to slug it out (the "fight on the right") even if this means we lose some elections. But Lord! The damage that can be done (and the numbers of Americans that could end up dead) if we handed over the keys to the Democrats while we sorted out our house. That's a little too much like Russian roulette for my risk appetite.


Michael Tams said...


I can see a little bit where you're coming from, but I'm not sure I'm totally there with you yet. And I have to tell you, it sounds a little like you wanted it both ways for a second there (the media plays a pivotal role, yet the internet levels the playing field for non-media-endorsed candidates).

And my view? I think primaries are critical, as important as the general election, yet good luck getting a turnout in the 30-40% range. I also see very little difference between a Clinton, Obama or Guiliani presidency; all would be bad for America. And if it came down to Rudy, Fred, Hunter and Tancredo, I think I'd probably swallow hard and vote for Fred. I'd prefer either Hunter or Tancredo, but I'll be d*mned if I'm going to have a hand in a Guiliani (or worse, for that matter) presidency.

Character is important, but I can provide lots of examples where people might check their character, even if for a moment. Never lied to protect someone's feelings? I have for sure, probably lots of times. There are certain situations where people do some quick mental calculus: do I do more harm by being honest, or do I do more harm by compromising my principles?

And if you met someone who never compromised their principles, never acted or behaved in a manner other than by what they valued; truly, never considered anything but there own internal compass, I think you'd find this person to be an insufferable creep.


Michael Tams said...

One other thing occurred to me last night that I'll address now, with a clearer head.

There's an argument to be made that goes like this: the primaries have another function, it is as sort of as a marketplace of ideas (candidate-centric). If certain candidates (say Tancredo) make a strong, but ultimately inadequate showing in the primary, the eventual winner will recognize that there's a certain portion of the electorate who adheres to the ideas and positions of that candidate, and can use that experience to tailor their message to bring those voters into the fold.


I just don't see it happening in reality. We're dealing, after all, with human nature and people with some probably not insubstantial egos. I'll go back to the example of my own state as a point of reference. Judy Topinka could have recognized that there was a large part of the republican party that preferred anyone else than her.

Including Ralph Gidwitz, who was also considered more conservative than Judy, between Oberweis (233,576), Brady (135,370), and Gidwitz (80,068), there was a pretty clear message among Illinois republicans that Judy (280,701) wasn't it. She could have taken this message and stepped to the right in her fight against Rod. She didn't. One of her brilliant campaign ideas was more gaming licenses to fix the state's deficit problems; probably a safe bet that conservatives would prefer she fix the state's runaway entitlement problems by ending them, rather than finding novel ways in which to finance them.

Why didn't Judy's challengers get together and do what was best for the state? Ego? Stubborness? Planning for the next election? Probably some combination of all of those? Yeah, I think so.

Candidates are people, and people are generally expedient creatures; it's human nature. All of which I point out merely to illustrate that the argument one can make about the function of primaries as a "proving ground" is based on some flimsy understanding of human nature. It would take a very self-aware and politically astute candidate to take the necessary steps to bridge the gap to those voters who didn't support him or her in the primary.